Christianity 201

October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Christian Church?

Because Thanksgiving has already happened in Canada, our U.S. readers can consider this an early Thanksgiving article for them!

by Clarke Dixon

As people gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey with thanksgiving reflections, how many said something like “thank you Lord, for Christians”? It feels like right now, many would echo the thoughts of Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” Do we, who call ourselves Christian, inspire gratitude? Are people grateful for the Christian Church? If you are a Christian reading this, are people grateful for you? You may wonder why I am sticking to the series from Romans for Thanksgiving Sunday. Read on, there is a connection!

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)

As far as I know, people upon discovering their spouse is in an adulterous affair don’t say “thank you, Lord!”. Nor if they discover their family member is a murderer do they say “thank God for that.” And so on. People, whether religious or not, have gratitude when their loved ones  are righteous. Paul fleshes out for us in Romans 13 the kind of life that inspires gratitude.

A life full of love inspires gratitude: “love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. Love naturally inclines us toward the righteousness that people are thankful for when they experience it from their loved ones. When we learn to love, we do not even need the law. One who holds to a high standard of love does not need rules saying “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal”, and so on. He or she would not want to. When I am driving my wife’s van on the highway, I need the occasional sign to remind me of the rule “thou shalt not drive faster than 100 km/h”. It is easy to speed when you have a smooth ride and a 3.6 litre V6 engine. When I ride my motorcycle, I need neither the signs, nor the rule. Having an engine smaller than your average lawn mower, it is “out-of-character” for my Honda 125 to go any faster. When we are so filled with the love and presence of God that His love is overflowing from us, we don’t need the rules to keep us from hurting people. Hurting others is out of character for a loving person. Doing anything but being helpful to others is out of character for the loving person. Keep in mind we are not talking about the “I love what you do for me” kind of love, but the Jesus-going-to-the-cross-for-people-who-do-not-deserve-it kind of love. It is a decisive, sacrificial, other benefitting kind of love.

Are we learning that kind of love that inspires gratitude? If people are not generally thankful for Christians, perhaps we Christians are not loving like we can and should?

Paul continues:

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

A life full of light inspires gratitude. To give a loose paraphrase of verse 11, “do this love thing we just spoke of, knowing the age we are in, the age of light breaking in on the darkness”. There is a progression in the Bible from God saying “let there be light” through spiritual darkness beginning with Adam and Eve, through Israel called to be a light to the nations but often having trouble finding the switch, to Jesus being the true light in ways Israel never could. John calls Jesus, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9 NRSV). With Christ a new day has dawned and the darkness is receding. We are called to wake up and live in that new day. We are called to live as those belonging to the Kingdom of light, and not those who live according to the old empire of darkness.

The metaphor of waking up continues with the command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” when we get dressed. In other words, when people see us, when they see what we put on in the morning, they will see Jesus. Here is also a reminder that it is not about our efforts. It is about God’s continual presence with us.

Let us be reminded of Paul’s original appeal:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

People don’t like it when we are not conformed to this world. But when we are full of love, when we are full of light, the people close to us are grateful. If our nation is not particularly grateful for the Christian Church, then perhaps it is time for us to wake up and put on Christ. Are you up and dressed yet?

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

 

September 21, 2017

Being Good While Being Yourself

by Clarke Dixon

“Just be yourself!”

This is a message often heard in today’s society. “Be authentic, be genuine, don’t let anybody tell you that you need to change!” The Christian message seems to be the exact opposite with the instruction “be transformed” (Romans 12:2), a call to repentance, and testimonies of changed lives. It seems like acceptance of who you are clashes with needing change. Which is the better path? Romans 12:9-21 will help us figure this out.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)

At first glance this might seem like a list of unrelated life-instructions. However, there are some common threads which will help us navigate the tension between self-acceptance and the need to change. Let us take a look:

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHARACTER.

Notice that there is no call to change one’s personality in Romans 12. A change in character is what is called for. This is not a change in identity, so that you are no longer authentically you, but a change in character, so that you are a better you. I am, and have always been, a quiet, shy person. The Lord did not ask me to become a naturally outgoing person when He called me to follow Christ.

We want to be careful here not to mix up personality traits with character traits and so miss an opportunity for growth. For example, many people describe themselves as being impatient people, as if impatience were a mark of their personality and something that cannot change. However, anything that is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22,23) is something God can and will help us change. As we sort out which of our “quirks” are personality traits that make us unique, and which are sins that keep us from being like Christ, let us remember that being a Christian is not a call away from authenticity, but a call to character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT OUR MINDS BEING RENEWED (BUT NOT REMOVED) BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

In Romans 12:9-21, Paul is fleshing out 12:1,2:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1,2 (NRSV emphasis mine)

The word behind “renew” has the idea of “making new again”. It is not a complete replacement, but rather a renovation. To renovate a home is a very different thing from demolishing it to build a completely different home. Take, for example, the apostles Peter and Paul. There is nothing to make us suspect that their personalities changed from before they knew Christ to after. We do see them change in very important ways, but they are still very much Peter and Paul. They are still very unique individuals. Discipleship in the Christian life is not like assimilation into the Borg in Star Trek, but rather becoming more like Jesus in our character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT RESPONDING TO THE TEACHING OF JESUS.

Romans 12:9-21 feels familiar. These are things that Jesus taught about, and demonstrated in his own life. It begins with love in verse 9: “Let love be genuine”. It includes non-retaliation, putting into practice turning the other cheek, which Jesus both taught and demonstrated. Someone might point out here that Jesus taught that we should deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow. Does that not mean giving up our individuality? In calling us to pick up our cross and follow, Jesus was not calling upon us to give up our identity as being unique in the universe, but to give up a desire to be the centre of the universe. In doing so, you will still be very much you, with all your quirks that make you interesting and unique. But you will be a better you.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHOOSING GOOD OVER EVIL

All of Romans 12:9-21 is framed by the the opportunity to choose good over evil as reflected in verses 9 and 21: “. . . hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good . . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. This is where “just be yourself” does not actually work. Such a sentiment must always be qualified. In watching the Emmy’s recently I did not hear anyone say anything like “Isn’t it wonderful how Donald Trump is comfortable in his own skin? Isn’t it great that he is just being himself?”. No one is saying that about Kim Jong-un either. At the end of the day, all people want everyone else to be good and not evil. All people want others, if they insist on being themselves, to be their better selves. Unfortunately, most people want to go with their own definitions of good and evil. However, the Christian life leads us to God’s definitions of good and evil, plus God’s empowerment to choose to do good rather than evil.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING COUNTER-CULTURAL.

Romans 12:2 does not say “no longer be conformed to your own identity” but “do not be conformed to this age”. Simply put, be yourself, but be your better self, and so stick out like a sore thumb. Those who live the kinds of lives that reflect Romans 12:9-21 will surely do so.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING SALT AND LIGHT IN SOCIETY.

While there is disagreement on how to get there, people naturally long for a better society. Romans 12:9-12 gives some very practical ways of getting there. Just imagine the impact if people were to live like these verses describe. The effect of a renewed mind is much better than the effect of being conformed to the current age. As our relationship with Christ leads to our minds being renewed, people will take notice. How could anyone not respond positively to genuine love (verse 9), hospitality (verse 13), being blessed instead of being cursed (verse 14), care for the downtrodden (verse 15), non-retaliation (verses 17 and following), and being with people who are peaceable (verse 18)? We should note here that we are to think on “what is noble in the sight of all” (verse17). The world is watching, even longing for, a changed people to show the way.

CONCLUSION

Society does not actually say “just be yourself”, it says “be yourself, unless we don’t like you, or there is something about you we think should change”. Jesus says I love you, no matter what you are currently like. I have already demonstrated that love by bearing the cross for you”. Now that is true acceptance, and by Someone whose acceptance of us really matters! When you experience acceptance by God, get ready to be changed, not that you are no longer you, but that you are a better you. Not only are you transformed by the renewing of your mind, but the world around you will begin changing for the better too. So be yourself! But be a God-filled changing-in-great-ways self!


August 26, 2017

OMG: Hearing it and Saying It

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

This week I had a discussion with someone on the topic of knowing God by his name. At one very brief point in the conversation, this person surprised me by saying they were not particularly offended by people saying “Oh, my God” or using the printed form, “OMG,” because unless identified or qualified, the God we serve is not necessarily the one being referenced. It may be the third of the Ten Commandments being broken if the reference is to something else.

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

It’s easy to take offense at the use of this phrase, because we are often taking it personally, but there’s no guarantee that it’s our God they’re talking about. For example, I have often lamented the general nature the term “god” (lower case) has and in so doing I appeal to this quotation by E. Stanley Jones, which regular readers here have seen before:

“When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ”

In other words, while the Old Testament points to “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (see Exodus 3:6, 3:15, 3:16, 4:5 for the specific phrase in the KJV; and also look at these references) in the New Testament we speak of “the God as revealed in Jesus Christ.” That’s our God.

So on the one hand, I despair over the need to so clearly define who the God is of which we speak, and yet on the other hand I also find the “OMG” phrase to totally grate on me; but I’ve never really held the two situations in tension. The result I suppose is to be able relax a little and grant the non-churched person (or the non-Jesus-follower, or the secularist) using the phrase some grace.

…Unless…

The problem comes when believers use such phrases. (See our first key verse above.) Has that happened to you?

We covered this topic here before in a 2012 article called Exemplary Speech. In it, the writer quoted these key verses; notice the references to speech:

Command and teach these things.  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Tim 4:11-13

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:7-8

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech. 1 Peter 3:10

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3:5-11

As I’ve written previously, “OMG” and it’s equivalent are a line I simply will not cross, but it’s become increasingly common to hear believers lapse into using the phrase or typing the acronym.  For us, “God” is the God of Abraham; is the God revealed in Jesus. It should hurt us when we hear another Christian fall into the cultural speech pattern of using this and we ought to gently correct them.

With a non-believer, we actually have an Evangelistic opportunity presented to us. Like the Apostle Paul’s speech at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22ff, we can say, to paraphrase him, ‘This God who you make reference to without really knowing him…allow me to introduce you!’


Postscript: The person with whom I had the discussion skirts the problem entirely; when reading a passage of scripture together this week, he glossed over the word God in the text, substituting “The Most High.”

July 31, 2017

A Gentle Spirit; An Honest Spirit

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Today we’re paying a return visit to Partners in Hope Today, a website we last connected with over four years ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program.  We offer you two shorter readings today, but click the titles for each in order to see the graphic images or link to the audio versions.

The Beauty of a Quiet and Gentle Spirit

While it is important to show gentleness towards those we are in contact with, it’s also essential that we learn how to treat ourselves with gentleness.  That doesn’t mean that we look for a “softer gentler way” that avoids issues and allows us to continue in whatever is convenient and comfortable, but is ultimately harmful.  It does mean that we seek gentleness everywhere we find ourselves.

God invites us to a lifestyle of gentleness where we respect truth, respect the dignity of everyone including ourselves, and delight in the joy and wonder of each new day.  Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live, for your instructions are my delight.  (Psalm 119:77 NLT)

Gentleness helps us admit that we are struggling and it’s okay to seek help.  He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.  (Psalm 103:4 NLT)

Gentleness is protected by the setting of safe boundaries in relationships.  Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me. Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.  (Psalm 40:11 NLT)

Gentleness is often experienced in our spirit when we take the time to slow down and notice life around us – a flower on a summer day; a baby in a stroller; the aroma of food; the beautiful colours in the sky as the sun goes down.  God has made everything beautiful for its own time. The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Psalm 19:1 NLT)

Gentleness in us flows and grows as we sit quietly and have a conversation with God.  Just reading the Bible often brings peace and gentleness to our souls and when we speak to God in response to what He is conveying to us in His Word, a gentleness of spirit seems to wrap itself around our hearts.  Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants.  (Deuteronomy 32:2 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to live in the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that comes from within and which is precious in Your sight.  AMEN  

Freedom Through Telling the Truth

“We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

How hard would it be to trust such a power if we thought he was a liar?  How could we even think about turning our will and our life over to his care?  Fortunately, one of our Heavenly Father’s basic characteristics is truth.  In fact, it is impossible for God to lie.  We can completely depend on every word God says and every promise He gives us.

It is impossible for God to lie.  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. God tells the truth, even if everyone else is a liar. (Hebrews 6:18, John 14:6 NLT, Romans 3:4 CEV)

God always speaks truth, even difficult truths, but does it with such kindness and love that it draws our heart closer to Him rather than driving us away from Him.  There’s a story in the Bible in John 4 that tells about Jesus’ encounter with a woman who was hiding the truth.  Jesus engaged her in conversation and revealed the complete truth about her life’s circumstances, which weren’t all that great.  Amazingly, in just a few minutes that woman, who had lived in shame in her community for years because of her circumstances, ran back to town and invited everyone to come and hear Jesus because He had revealed everything that had happened to her:  Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?  (John 4:29 NLT)

When God, who loves us unconditionally, speaks truth to us, life and hope and a desire for healing fills our hearts.  God’s wants to reveal the deception and lies we’ve been told by society and those we’ve lived under, because lies always harm and drag us down.  God wants to set us free from the bondage of lying, lift us up, and draw us closer to Himself.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart! (Isaiah 5:18 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for always speaking the truth in love to me.  Help me to live in the freedom of always speaking truth to you, to myself, and to others.  AMEN

June 7, 2017

Doctrine and Behavior

Today we’re paying a return visit to GotQuestions.org and in particular an article which uses two rather large words, one of which you’ve seen and the other which may be new to you. Click the title to read at source and then click on “What’s New” to see other articles of interest.

What is orthopraxy/orthopraxis?

Orthopraxy is a compound Greek word. The first word in the compound is ortho, which is quite familiar to most of us today. Is means “right, correct, or straight.” An orthodontist is a dentist who can “straighten” or correct teeth. An orthopedist is a doctor who works with deformities or misalignments of the skeletal system, often the spine, with the hope of being able to correct them. Praxis, the second word of the compound, sounds similar to the English equivalent—practice. Orthopraxy or orthopraxis is simply “correct practice” or “correct behavior.”

Orthopraxy is often seen in distinction from orthodoxy, which is “correct teaching” or “correct doctrine.” If someone is orthodox, it means that he believes correctly. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are often seen to be on opposite ends of a spectrum. Some forms of Christianity seem to place more emphasis on correct doctrine. Other forms of Christianity seem to care little for doctrine but place heavy emphasis on proper deeds. Orthopraxis can also refer to the correct performance of required rituals, which is important in some expressions of Christianity as well as in other religions. In many religions, it matters little what one believes as long as the correct works and rituals are performed.

Evangelical Protestantism emphasizes correct doctrine, and critics sometimes caricature the evangelical position as teaching that, as long as you believe the right things, it doesn’t matter what you do. That is not a genuine evangelical position, and neither is it a biblical understanding of the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

According to the Bible, correct doctrine will lead to correct behavior, but the doctrine comes first. In Romans, Paul spends the first eleven chapters explaining correct doctrine. In Romans 12:1 he transitions to correct practice: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” The word therefore means that the instructions that follow are based upon the doctrine that has just been explained.

In Ephesians we see the same pattern. Ephesians 1–3 explain correct doctrine, and chapters 4–6 explain correct practice. Once again, Ephesians 4:1 makes the transition: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In the first 3 chapters, Paul has explained the calling of the Christian in doctrinal terms, and now he calls his readers to live in light of that doctrine.

In Titus 3:8 Paul pulls orthodoxy and orthopraxy together in one verse: “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God [orthodoxy] may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good [orthopraxy]. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” He does the same thing in Ephesians 2. Verses 8–9 emphasize the orthodox teaching that we are saved by grace through faith apart from good works: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Verse 10 completes the thought: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Once again, correct belief comes first, and out of that flow correct works. We are saved apart from works; God’s purpose in saving us is that we do good works.

In fact, the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is so strong that, if a person does not perform good works, it is doubtful that he believes the right things. First John 2:3–6 explains, “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

Some religions and some forms of Christianity emphasize orthopraxy with little regard for orthodoxy, but this is not the biblical pattern. Likewise, some forms of Christianity emphasize orthodoxy with little regard for orthopraxy. This too is unbiblical. The biblical model is that we must embrace correct doctrine (orthodoxy), and this must be more than mere intellectual assent to truth. Biblical faith involves trust and personal commitment. When a person goes beyond affirming the fact that Christ is the “Savior of the world” to trusting Christ as “my Savior from my sins,” then he or she is born again. The indwelling Spirit of God begins to change that person from within. Correct behavior (orthopraxy) will result from that inner work.

We cannot see a person’s heart, but the link between orthopraxy and orthodoxy is so strong that, if a person’s practice is not correct, we can infer that his faith is not truly orthodox. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:14–19). Even demons have an orthodox theology, but they are not saved!

In summary, both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are important. If any form of Christianity emphasizes one to the exclusion or diminishing of the other, it is unbiblical. Good deeds are a necessary and normal part of the Christian life; however, they are unable to make one righteous before God. Justification is only possible by faith in the Savior whose substitutionary, sacrificial death paid the penalty for our sins and provided us with the righteousness that we need to make us acceptable to God.

Recommended Resource: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns

May 19, 2017

The Bible Project: An Overview of the Book of Titus

We did this a year ago and decided it was time to revisit The Bible Project a video series which helps those of us who think more visually. As we said last year, we know you come here daily for a teaching or inspirational writing that is written out in words, and some devotional websites can easily get lazy and just post videos or link to audio podcasts. But we felt this was a worthy exception. I hope you agree.

Learn more at TheBibleProject.com

May 13, 2017

Jesus Builds His Core Team

Sometimes I have been guilty of using terminology incorrectly. I know in my younger days this was true with disciples versus apostles. To be clear, Jesus chose 12 apostles, but had many disciples. In Luke 6 we see a turning point where he, to use a modern church term, chooses his board members. …Actually, that may not be a great analogy; make that Jesus chooses his ministry staff.

12 During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. 13 At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles

When did this take place in the overall chronology? Meyers N.T. Commentary states:

According to Matthew, the choice of the Twelve had not yet occurred before the Sermon on the Mount; nevertheless it is implied in Matthew, not, indeed, sooner than at Luke 10:1 [the sending out of the 72] but after the call of Matthew himself. Luke in substance follows Mark in what concerns the choice of the apostles. But he here assigns to the Sermon on the Mount—which Mark has not got at all—a position different from that in Matthew, following a tradition which attached itself to the locality of the choice of the apostles (τὸ ὄρος) as readily as to the description and the contents of the sermon.

The important takeaway from the passage is not chronology, however. The thing we’re meant to see with greatest clarity is that Jesus made the decision after much prayer. At Heartlight we read:

Few events were more important in Jesus’ ministry than his selection of apostles. How would Jesus select 12 from the mob that followed him? These men would have to change the world. Could he actually find 12 that could do that? Jesus knew what was in the hearts of people. Would anyone be able to stand up to the challenges that he would have to face as one of Jesus’ chosen 12? Jesus withdrew to the mountains to be alone with God and pray as he faced this momentous decision. He didn’t choose 12 and then ask God to bless his choice. No, he spent the night in prayer before he chose the 12. When faced with decisions, whether they appear important or not, we need to follow the example of our Lord!

At Redeeming God there is an excellent article — also on audio — on this passage. We can’t reproduce it all here, but I want to share some of it; click here to read it all (including a biography of each one).

We often think of the twelve apostles as the only disciples Jesus had. But that is simply not true. He had hundreds, if not thousands of other disciples. Out of them, He chose twelve to pour most of His time, energy and attention into. The twelve are named apostles, which means “sent ones.” The question though, is why did He pick twelve, and why these twelve? At that time, when a teacher wanted to focus his time and energy on a few specially selected students, the teacher would pick only one or two, at the most three students to train. If you have ever done any serious discipling, you know that adequately teaching and training even one person is almost a full time task. But Jesus picks twelve! Why twelve?

A. Rulers

The main reason is probably because Jesus was picking men to rule in His kingdom. He was, in a way, inaugurating a new Israel in Himself. Originally, the twelve tribes of Israel were to rule over the nations, and they will again one day, but with the twelve apostles ruling over the twelve tribes (Matt. 19:28). Before that happens, Jesus has something new to establish – the church. And the apostles will be the ones to help establish it. When Jesus picks twelve, he was indicating to them and everyone else, that these were the ones who would help Him rule when He came into His kingdom. They represented a whole new Israel.

This would be a great encouragement to them when they faced trials and tribulations later in life. It can be a great encouragement to you also. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, you also will rule. You cannot be an apostle, but you can be a disciple, and many passages in the Bible tell us that Jesus Christ is calling you to be His disciple. If you respond and follow Him, you will later be given the right to rule with him (Luke 19:11-27). Not to the same level as the apostles, but still in a very special and significant way. By picking twelve, Jesus was reminding the apostles that if they followed Him faithfully, they would rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. We need to be reminded that if we follow Him faithfully, we too will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. There is great motivation and incentive in that Biblical truth.

You say, “Yeah, but I’m not disciple quality. Jesus wouldn’t pick me.” Guess what? These twelve Jesus picked weren’t quality either. We sometimes elevate them and put them on pedestals, but they were human just like us.

B. Ordinary Men

They were perfectly ordinary in every way. Not one was known for being scholarly or well trained in the Bible. Not one was a great speaker, writer or theologian. None of them had outstanding talents or abilities. To the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, failures of faith, and bitter resentment toward others. Even the leader of the group, Peter, was forever sticking his foot in his mouth. In fact, at times, Jesus is amazed at how slow they are to learn and how spiritually dense they are (Luke 24:25).

Furthermore, we see from them that God loves variety. There is not one perfect mold that all Christians must fit into. Some of them were fishermen. Two of them, one a tax collector and the other a religious zealot, under any other circumstance, would have been trying to kill one another. Some of them were brothers to one another. Some of them were married, some single. Some were probably craftsmen and tradesmen, or maybe farmers. Don’t ever think that you don’t qualify to be a disciple of Christ. If these men qualify, you qualify. Though these men may not amount to much in the eyes of the world, they are exactly what God is looking for…

…God’s way of doing things is not man’s way. According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, God chooses the humble, the lowly, the weak and the meek. He doesn’t choose the strong and the talented, the powerful and the rich. He chooses those who would never be chosen so that when He works powerfully through them, everybody knows that only God could do such things. The people we would pick are not the ones God picks. If you feel like you are not qualified to be a follower of Jesus, then you are just right. If you feel, however, that you are just what God needs, then you may have some things to learn before God can start using you…

So Christ picked these twelve to show that He was choosing some rulers for His kingdom, and He also picked these twelve to show us that we don’t have to have great training or popularity to be one of His disciples.

C. Students

What is most curious about Christ’s choice is that at first, it seemed these apostles had nothing to do but follow Jesus around and listen to His teachings. They thought they were going to be put to some grand task, and given some great responsibility, but all they did was sit around, go to parties, watch Jesus interact with other people, and listen to Him teach.

Similarly, when you first become a follower of Jesus Christ, it may seem that God is giving you nothing significant to do. It may seem that Jesus has called you to be his disciple, but then He forgot about you, or doesn’t have any true purpose for you to fulfill. But this is because, frequently, God’s first will for your life is to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Before you can live like Jesus, you must learn from Jesus. Before you can do His will, you must know His will. If it seems like you are not being used by God, then you should take the opportunity to patiently learn from God. There is nothing wrong with sitting and learning, as long as you are willing and ready to go when Jesus says, “Go!” In fact, he will not send you, until you have learned what He wants you to know.

Even once they were trained, they were not perfect. After their training was complete, the first night on their own, they all deserted, betrayed and denied Jesus Christ. Afterwards, some of them even tried to go back to their original occupation of fishing, but they failed at that too…until Jesus showed up and got them back on course (John 21). To be a disciple means first and foremost to be a learner. A lot of people think that following Christ is all about doing what Christ would do. That is why we had that fad a few years back where everyone bracelets and T-shirts that said “What Would Jesus Do?”

The problem is that we cannot do what Jesus would do, unless we first become like Jesus, and we cannot become like Jesus until we know Jesus. Not “know” Jesus as in “I know about Jesus” but know Jesus as in “I know Him as if he were my best friend.” And the only way you can become the best friend of Jesus is by spending lots of time with Him. That’s what he wants from you. He doesn’t want you to do great things for Him. He wants to do great things for you and through you. But the only way that is going to happen is if you get to know Jesus. Listen to Him teach. Ask Him questions. Watch how He deals with people. Let Him encourage you, lovingly correct you, and patiently instruct you. As you go through this process, He will eventually give you an assignment. First a small one, then larger and larger until you will be amazed at the things God is doing through you. But it all begins with sitting at His feet and learning…

…continue reading here

 

May 12, 2017

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

We’ve linked to The Christian Examiner at Thinking Out Loud before, but never here at C201. We noted this devotional article and thought we would share it here. Better yet, read this at source — click the title below — and then navigate to their news pages for a Christian perspective on current events. Bookmark the site for frequent reference.

Wait Is a Four-Letter Word

by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Wait is a four-letter word. Coincidence? I think not.

We’re all waiting on something from God: true love or a baby, a job or a cure. And the period between answers can feel like a place where dreams—and faith—go to die.

I have often thought to myself, The worst part of waiting is the uncertainty. I wish God would just give me a yes or no so I can move on with life.

Have you ever thought something like this:
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to find true love, maybe I could get busy building a fulfilling life as a single person.
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to have the career breakthrough I’ve longed for, maybe I could devote my time and energy to other things.

We tell ourselves the problem is the not knowing. Dealing with uncertainty. We tell ourselves we wouldn’t mind waiting so much if God just told us, “You’re going to get what you want in the end, but buckle up for a long ride—it’s going to take awhile.”

But who am I kidding? When I’m waiting, I want more than just a yes or no from God. It’s not enough to know if, I want to know when. I want a timeline. A fat red circle on the calendar.

I’m going to wait two years and nine months before I get pregnant, You say? Okay. I don’t love that timeline, but I can work with it. I’ll do the Pinterest thing and make a cute countdown calendar, and I’ll find a way to be happy the whole time I’m waiting.

But life doesn’t work that way, God doesn’t work that way. It is in the not knowing that God works on our heart, our faith, our character. It is in the not knowing that 2 Peter 1 and James 1 collide:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5–8

Christians are meant to grow—to become godlier, more loving, more self-controlled, better at persevering—so we don’t stagnate spiritually. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically, accidentally, or overnight. Spiritual growth is a lifetime process we never outgrow. It takes conscious effort—every effort, in fact. The perfectionist in me finds this both overwhelming and comforting—overwhelming because I want to be done growing (meaning perfect) yesterday; comforting because I realize I’m not supposed to be done growing yet. Character is built slowly: step-by-step, choice by choice, even mistake by mistake, one strength building on another over time. Smack in the middle of this character-building process we find the trait we desperately need when we are waiting: perseverance. Now let’s pair this passage with what James says about perseverance:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2–4

Did you catch that last phrase—”let perseverance finish its work”—as in it’s up to us to allow that work to happen so we can grow? As in trials produce perseverance, and perseverance can lead to spiritual maturity, but we have to let it happen, not fight the process? If we let Him, God can use our waiting journeys to shape us, to make us into the people He created us to be.

Knowing our weakness, knowing our need, God offers us many stories of godly people who have wrestled with waiting with varying success. People like Sarah, who received a definitive promise from God but then crumbled in the face of bleak fact: seventy-five-year-old women just don’t have babies. The good news for those of us (all of us) who wait imperfectly? Many of our fellow waiters in the Bible got second chances. (Remember Sarah’s miracle baby, Isaac?) And third and fourth and fifth chances, and on and on goes the grace of God.

Waiting seasons aren’t fun, but they are opportunities. Through our waiting seasons—yes, through the not knowing—we can build character one step at a time. Through our waiting seasons, perseverance can gradually “finish” its never-ending work in us. As waiting does its thing, and God does His, we get the chance to become our best selves, the people God designed us to be. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.

March 31, 2017

Before April 1st: What the Bible Says About Fools

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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With people reading here from around the world, I don’t know how common “April Fools Day” is where you live, but I thought it would be a good time to see what scriptures might come up in a search for fool, fools, foolish, etc.

As I’m sure you can imagine, many such verses come from the book of Proverbs. This is a book about wisdom and the wise person is clearly the opposite of a fool. I found a number of these verses listed at OpenBible.info. A number of verses also appear at GodVine.

The best source however turned out to be BibleReasons.com. This was a new site to me, but one I felt was the best because the verses were categorized, and they also provided an introduction. As often happens with solid, conservative Christian websites, all of the quotations are from the King James. I decided to go ahead with this anyway, I hope that “201” readers here can navigate the archaic language.

Not wanting to reblog their entire contents on this topic, I’ve done some selecting, so I encourage you to click the title below to read in full.

25 Bible verses about fools

A fool is someone who is unwise, lacks sense, and lacks judgement. Fools don’t want to learn the truth. They laugh at the truth and turn their eyes away from the truth. Fools are wise in their own eyes failing to take in wisdom and advice, which will be their downfall. They suppress the truth by their unrighteousness.

They have wickedness in their hearts, they are lazy, proud, they slander others, and live in repeat foolishness. Living in sin is fun for a fool.

It’s not wise to desire their company because they will lead you down a dark path. Fools rush into danger without wise preparation and thinking about the consequences.

Scripture keeps people from being foolish, but sadly fools despise the Word of God…

Teaching them

1. Proverbs 18:2-3 Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions. Doing wrong leads to disgrace, and scandalous behavior brings contempt.

2. Proverbs 1:5-7 Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

The mouth of a fool.

4. Proverbs 10:18-19 He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool. In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.

6. Proverbs 18:13 Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.

They continue in their foolishness.

10. Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.

Arguing with them

11. Proverbs 29:8-9 Mockers can get a whole town agitated, but the wise will calm anger. If a wise person takes a fool to court, there will be ranting and ridicule but no satisfaction.

12. Proverbs 26:4-5 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Trusting them

13. Proverbs 26:6-7 Trusting a fool to convey a message is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison! A proverb in the mouth of a fool is as useless as a paralyzed leg.

14. Luke 6:39 Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch?

The difference between an intelligent man and a fool. 

16. Proverbs 15:21 Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom: but a man of understanding walketh uprightly.

17. Proverbs 14:8-10 The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.

Fools say there is no God.

20. Psalm 53:1 1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.

21. Psalm 74:18 Remember this, O LORD, that the enemy has reviled, And a foolish people has spurned Your name.

Can a Christian call someone a fool? This verse is speaking of unrighteous anger, which is a sin, but righteous anger is not a sin.

22. Matthew 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.


Again, there are 25 verses in the full article, it’s easy to see by the numbers here we condensed this. Click the title to read the full article and bookmark the site next time you want to pursue a particular topic.

That would be wise thing to do!


Related post from April 1, 2014: A Day Devoted to Lies.

January 11, 2017

Becoming a Person Given to Hospitality

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NLT Genesis 19:1 That evening the two angels came to the entrance of the city of Sodom. Lot was sitting there, and when he saw them, he stood up to meet them. Then he welcomed them and bowed with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “come to my home to wash your feet, and be my guests for the night. You may then get up early in the morning and be on your way again.”

“Oh no,” they replied. “We’ll just spend the night out here in the city square.”

3 But Lot insisted, so at last they went home with him. Lot prepared a feast for them, complete with fresh bread made without yeast, and they ate

I’ll grant you the above story doesn’t end well, but it was referred to by today’s writer, so I’ve included it. Today we’re paying a return visit to the website Bible Universe. In addition to the article — click the link below to read at site — I’ve also included a link to some additional resources they offer at the end of today’s reading.

Importance of Hospitality

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

In the twilight two strangers drew near to the city gate. They were apparently travelers coming in to tarry for the night. None could discern in those humble wayfarers the mighty heralds of divine judgment, and little dreamed the gay, careless multitude that in their treatment of these heavenly messengers that very night they would reach the climax of the guilt which doomed their proud city. But there was one man who manifested kindly attention toward the strangers and invited them to his home.

Lot did not know their true character, but politeness and hospitality were habitual with him; they were a part of his religion–lessons that he had learned from the example of Abraham. Had he not cultivated a spirit of courtesy, he might have been left to perish with the rest of Sodom. Many a household, in closing its doors against a stranger, has shut out God’s messenger, who would have brought blessing and hope and peace.

Every act of life, however small, has its bearing for good or for evil. Faithfulness or neglect in what are apparently the smallest duties may open the door for life’s richest blessings or its greatest calamities. It is little things that test the character. It is the unpretending acts of daily self-denial, performed with a cheerful, willing heart, that God smiles upon. We are not to live for self, but for others. And it is only by self-forgetfulness, by cherishing a loving, helpful spirit, that we can make our life a blessing. The little attentions, the small, simple courtesies, go far to make up the sum of life’s happiness, and the neglect of these constitutes no small share of human wretchedness.

Seeing the abuse to which strangers were exposed in Sodom, Lot made it one of his duties to guard them at their entrance, by offering them entertainment at his own house. He was sitting at the gate as the travelers approached, and upon observing them, he rose from his place to meet them, and bowing courteously, said, “Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night.” They seemed to decline his hospitality, saying, “Nay; but we will abide in the street.”

Their object in this answer was twofold–to test the sincerity of Lot and also to appear ignorant of the character of the men of Sodom, as if they supposed it safe to remain in the street at night. Their answer made Lot the more determined not to leave them to the mercy of the rabble. He pressed his invitation until they yielded, and accompanied him to his house.


Earlier I mentioned there would be a bonus link today to some other resources at Bible Universe. First of all some general interest ones:

  • Keys to Bible Symbols — a great help if you’re wanting to follow the thread of various “types” used in scripture or in terms of literary imagery.
  • Keys to Bible Numbers — similar to the above, but dealing with the meaning of different numbers.

Also, do you know a Christian who is also a medical doctor? Bible Universe (dot com) recently ran a series of three short devotionals to encourage people in that profession.

01/03/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #3

01/02/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #2

01/01/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #1

October 10, 2016

Why Do You Feel You Must Respond?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to the blog of Neal Pollard who is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. Click the title to read at source; there’s a lot of great material waiting for you at his site.

Answering Our Accusers

There was a time when it was possible to engage in respectful, loving dialogue with brothers and sisters we disagreed with or had a problem with. Even if we felt passionately, we could discuss it civilly and retain or even strengthen our relationship with our “disputant.” We should be thankful that there are still many who are open to such a biblical methodology.  However, there are some who seem intent only on winning the day, seizing some perceived moral or doctrinal high ground, or championing what appears to be a self-serving cause. Some of these same individuals are rife with rancorous rhetoric, baiting or calling out those they seem to see as enemies or the guilty. When we are called out, are we scripturally obligated to answer them or defend ourselves? Or, as the late Wendell Winkler put it, are we simply giving them a platform to spread their extreme views?

For the minority of brethren whose minds are made up, no matter what, or who seem eager to tangle, the question is whether or not it is necessary or helpful to answer their accusations.  I realize there were circumstances like 2 Corinthians where Paul, who was innocent, wrote by inspiration to defend himself. But I also remember when the Lord stood before Herod, Pilate and the Jews and “answered…nothing” (Mat. 27:12; Mark 15:3,5; Luke 23:9; Isa. 53:7). While none of us are nearly so good as our Lord, He is the example we are to strive to follow (1 Pet. 2:21). Before answering an accuser, it is wise to determine the following:

  • What is my motivation for answering? Is it to save face for myself? Is it to somehow punish or put my accusers in their place? Is it to prove I’m right and they are wrong? Pride, anger, and hurt feelings are not proper motivations for answering an accuser.
  • What do I hope to accomplish by answering? Will I change their minds or those to whom they pander? Are they actually desirous of an answer? Will I rescue my reputation or harm it by going to their level?
  • What are the ethics of my accusers? Is this a hobby or obsession of theirs (i.e., do they have a pattern and history of doing this with others)? Do they have the facts straight? Do they assert things as facts that are quantifiably wrong? If so, will they deal honestly with the answers I give them or twist them to suit their own agenda?

Here is the judgment call we have to make. Solomon gives divergent advice in Proverbs 26 when he says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (4-5). Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t.  Perhaps the Lord has placed that ball in our court, trusting us to use our judgment. If my Lord’s name and cause is threatened, I will be ready to jump to His defense. If someone tries to do that with my name, I should be more careful and if this is a means to allow the common sense observer to look at both of our works and discern each of our characters, may I have the patience and maturity to see it as an opportunity to fulfill Matthew 5:38-48. We don’t have to attend every fight people goad us to join.

August 25, 2016

Do You Have a Heart for God?

1 Samuel 13:1–14 NLT

Continued War with Philistia

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty-two years.

Saul selected 3,000 special troops from the army of Israel and sent the rest of the men home. He took 2,000 of the chosen men with him to Micmash and the hill country of Bethel. The other 1,000 went with Saul’s son Jonathan to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin.

 Soon after this, Jonathan attacked and defeated the garrison of Philistines at Geba. The news spread quickly among the Philistines. So Saul blew the ram’s horn throughout the land, saying, “Hebrews, hear this! Rise up in revolt!”  All Israel heard the news that Saul had destroyed the Philistine garrison at Geba and that the Philistines now hated the Israelites more than ever. So the entire Israelite army was summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.

The Philistines mustered a mighty army of 3,000* chariots, 6,000 charioteers, and as many warriors as the grains of sand on the seashore! They camped at Micmash east of Beth-aven.   The men of Israel saw what a tight spot they were in; and because they were hard pressed by the enemy, they tried to hide in caves, thickets, rocks, holes, and cisterns.  Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped into the land of Gad and Gilead.

Saul’s Disobedience and Samuel’s Rebuke

Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear.   Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away.  So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.

Just as Saul was finishing with the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet and welcome him,   but Samuel said, “What is this you have done?”

Saul replied, “I saw my men scattering from me, and you didn’t arrive when you said you would, and the Philistines are at Micmash ready for battle.   So I said, ‘The Philistines are ready to march against us at Gilgal, and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself before you came.”

“How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.   But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

This is an article from earlier in the year by Chuck Swindoll which came recommended. We’ve included the full text of the scripture because the reading itself is shorter. If you have a devotional you want to recommend be sure to contact us. Click the title below to read at source.

Chuck SwindollHow’s Your Heart?

When God scans the earth for potential leaders, He is not on a search for angels in the flesh. He is certainly not looking for perfect people, since there are none. He is searching for men and women like you and me, mere people made up of flesh, bone, and blood. But He is also looking for certain qualities in those people, like the qualities He found in David.

The first quality God saw in David was a heart for God. “The Lord has sought out . . . a man after His own heart.” What does it mean to be a person after God’s own heart? Seems to me, it means that you are a person whose life is in harmony with the Lord. What is important to Him is important to you. What burdens Him burdens you. When He says, “Go to the right,” you go to the right. When He says, “Stop that in your life,” you stop it. When He says, “This is something I want you to change,” you come to terms with it because you have a heart for God. That’s bottom-line biblical Christianity.

When you are deeply spiritual, you have a heart that is sensitive to the things of God. A parallel verse in 2 Chronicles confirms this: “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9, emphasis added).

What is God looking for? He is looking for men and women whose hearts are completely His—completely. That means there are no locked closets. Nothing’s been swept under the rugs. That means that when you do wrong, you admit it and immediately come to terms with it. You’re grieved over wrong. You’re concerned about those things that displease your heavenly Father. You long to please Him in your actions. You care about the motives behind your actions. That’s having a heart for God, and that’s the first quality David had. Do you have a heart for God?

God is looking for men and women whose hearts are completely His—completely.

— Charles R. Swindoll

Excerpted from Charles R. Swindoll, Great Days with the Great Lives (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2005).

If you would like a shorter devotion, perhaps to start the day or end the day, consider signing up for Chuck Swindoll at Insight for Living. They are currently in the book of Esther. To learn more, click this link.

 

August 12, 2016

3 Types of Righteousness

Today, we’re paying a return visit to Wade Burleson at Istoria Ministries. Click the title below to read at source.

Imputed, Imparted, and Imbedded Righteousness

Righteousness is a big, important word that  conveys one of the life’s most vital concepts.

The Bible declares that God is righteous.  “O LORD, God of Israel, You are righteous!” (Ezra 9:15). “The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” (Psalms 116:5). The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made” (Psalms 145:17).

The Hebrew word translated righteousness has as its root the meaning of “right” or “straight.” The Old English word used to translate the Hebrew word was “oughtness.” God is right. God is straight. God is as He ought to be.

To be righteous is to be right. It is to be a person who is not crooked in character or conduct. However, because of sin in all of us, there is “no one righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10). Nobody is as we ought to be. We are not righteous in character, and we are not holy in conduct. Holiness is but the outward expression of internal righteousness, and without holiness “no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrew 12:14).

How then, does a sinner become righteous in the eyes of God?

Imputed Righteousness

The word “impute” means to “credit to an account” of another. It is an accounting term. When God imputes righteousness, it means that God credits “righteousness” to the account of a sinner. How can I be seen by God as “righteous” when both God and I know that that I’m a sinner.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:22).

God credits me with perfect righteousness when I believe in Christ. My trust (faith) is credited as righteousness to me” (Romans 4:22).

“I am found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9).

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

You are declared righteous by God through the gift of His righteousness given to all those with faith in Christ.

Imparted Righteousness

“Imparted righteousness” identifies the internal work of God when He regenerates those who trust in Christ. Believers in Christ become “partakers of the divine nature” (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). It is this principle of righteousness imparted to men in regeneration which is ever in conflict with the old Adamic nature.

It is critical, however, to maintain the distinction between the “imputed righteousness” of Christ which is the basis for justification and this “imparted righteousness” which may be seen as the basis for subsequent sanctification.

Imbedded Righteousness

For all you English majors out there, imbedded is a legitimate variant spelling of embedded.

To be imedded means “to fix into a surrounding mass; or to incorporate as an essential part or characteristic.” 

When something is imbedded, it cannot be removed. The characteristics of that which is imbedded are seen in the mass in which it is imbedded. For example, when red dye is imbedded into plastic, you have red plastic. When paint is imbedded into canvas, you have art. When righteousness is imbedded into a sinner, you have a person who begins to pursue what is right.

In essence, nobody has warrant to say they have been given the gift of imputed righteousness, and have in them the presence of imparted righteousness, until they life a life that shows evidence of imbedded righteousness. 

Nobody who knows Christ continues in their sin. We all sin. We who have received the righteousness of Christ have righteousness imbedded within us, and therefore, the characteristics of living right are always present – for we can’t help it.

It’s imbedded within our DNA as followers of Jesus.

June 21, 2016

Characterized by Courage, or Characterized by Fear?

Did your high school ever do a production of The Wizard of Oz? This one is from the UK.

Did your high school ever do a production of The Wizard of Oz? The one pictured here is from the UK.

Today, one of our past writers recommended a site, Love Everlasting Ministries, which in turn led us to the blog of Sarah Callen, Work in Progress, where we found today’s article.  Click the title below to read at source.

Courage, My Heart

The Wizard of Oz is a classic movie full of wonderful and memorable characters, one of my favorites is the Cowardly Lion. I love the irony of his character: a huge, ferocious looking lion who is scared of everything and severely lacking in courage. This lovable character spends his time with Dorothy in search of courage, understanding that his lack of courage is unbefitting.

I wonder how many of us are like the Cowardly Lion: we know we are to be courageous, but find ourselves crippled by fear. 

Lately, in my own quiet time with the Lord and in conversations with others, the word “courage” has consistently come up. Our lives, especially as Christians, require a great deal of courage. Trusting God, trusting that we’re hearing his voice, following God’s instructions, and living “on mission” all require courage. It takes courage to forgive, it takes courage to be kind, it takes courage to depend on God, it takes courage to love others. The life of a Christ follower requires courage at every turn. Following God is not for the faint of heart.

Courage n. mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

One of my favorite Bible characters is Joshua. He was a man who had faith in God, learned to submit to his leaders and then led his people into the territory God had given them. His story is one full of faith and courage and he lived in a way that can inspire us today. In the book of Deuteronomy we learn that Joshua was the apprentice of Moses, he followed him around wherever he went and learned as much as he could from the leader of Israel. The next book, the book of Joshua, begins with the death of Moses and Joshua being appointed as the leader of the nation. Talk about pressure! I can only imagine the insecurity and fear that Joshua faced. The people rebelled and argued with Moses, a man who heard and spoke directly with God, if I were Joshua I would be completely doubting my ability to lead this unruly group. But God knew exactly what Joshua needed to hear to lead His people into the land that had been promised to them. Joshua 1:5-9 begins with God’s instructions to Joshua:

“…No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

In the span of four verses God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous three times… I think he may have been trying to make a point. Courage was necessary for Joshua and the people Israel, they could do nothing without courage. But I find the flow of this passage to be very interesting.

It takes courage to lead. 

The first “be strong and courageous” is directed specifically to Joshua, as Joshua would be unable to enter the promised land without it. During his time as the leader of the nation, Joshua showed immense faith and courage, resulting in the miraculous acts of God on behalf of his people. Joshua had the courage to listen to God, take him at his word and not budge, knowing that whatever God said would indeed come to pass. It takes immense courage to see the vision of God and not be dissuaded by circumstance or naysayers.

It takes courage to obey. 

Has God ever instructed you to do something that just scared you? Have you ever read a verse and thought to yourself, “I just don’t know if I can do that…”? I know I have. Obedience to God takes a great deal of courage. Read through the book of Joshua and witness the seemingly crazy instructions that God gave Joshua who in turn had to tell the people. It took courage to march around the city of Jericho for seven days instead of coming up with a plan of attack. It took courage to devote the entire city to God instead of keeping everything for themselves. It took courage to go up against giants and armies when Israel was vastly outnumbered. But every act of courageous obedience resulted in overwhelming blessing.

It takes courage to go. 

“Go” is the most expensive word in the Bible. It can be easy sometimes to focus on the cost, instead of summoning the courage to “go”. Courage is required to spread the love of Jesus, whether that means going to your neighbor or another country. But, when we summon the courage to go, knowing that God is with us the entire time, I believe great things can happen. When fear-conquering courage fuels faith-filled actions this can lead to changed lives and communities.

In what areas of your life do you need an infusion of courage? How can that spark of courage in your life lead to the benefit of others? It’s my hope and prayer that we will all be strong and courageous as Joshua was so that we can lead, obey, and go as the Lord instructs.


To read another article by Sarah which was our introduction to her writing, scroll to her June 14th article at Love Everlasting Ministries.

 

April 15, 2016

The Valiant Woman of Proverbs 31

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. …Strength and dignity are her clothing,and she laughs at the time to come.She opens her mouth with wisdom,and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household,and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy;her husband too, and he praises her…

Today we pay a return visit to the online resource, Theology of Work. Clicking the title below will take you today’s post, form which you can navigate your way to other sections.

The Valiant Woman (Proverbs 31:10-31)

A remarkable connection between the book of Proverbs and the world of work occurs at the end of the book. Lady Wisdom, who we meet at the beginning of the book (Prov. 1:20-33, 8:1-9:12), reappears in street clothes in the final 22 verses of the book (Prov.31:10-31) as a living, breathing woman, termed “the virtuous woman” (KJV). Some translators use “wife” instead of “woman,” probably because the woman’s husband and children are mentioned in the passage. (Both “wife” and “woman” are possible translations of the Hebrew ishshah.) Indeed, she finds fulfillment in her family and ensures that “her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land” (Prov. 31:23). But the text focuses on the woman’s work as an entrepreneur with a cottage industry and its servants/workers to manage (Prov. 31:15). Proverbs 31:10-31 does not merely apply to the workplace; it takes place in a workplace.

The book of Proverbs is summarized, then, in a poem praising a woman who is the wise manager of diverse enterprises ranging from weaving to wine making to trade in the market. Translators variously use the words “virtuous” (KJV), “capable” (NRSV), “excellent” (NASB), or “of noble character” (NIV) to describe this woman’s character in Prov. 31:10. But these terms fail to capture the element of strength or might present in the underlying Hebrew word (chayil). When applied to a man, this same term is translated “strength,” as in Prov. 31:3. In a great majority of its 246 appearances in the Old Testament, it applies to fighting men (e.g., David’s “mighty warriors,” 1 Chronicles 7:2). Translators tend to downplay the element of strength when the word is applied to a woman, as with Ruth, whom English translations describe as “noble” (NIV, TNIV), “virtuous” (NRSV, KJV) or “excellent” (NASB). But the word is the same, whether applied to men or women. In describing the woman of Proverbs 31:10-31, its meaning is best understood as strong or valiant, as further indicated by Prov. 31:17, “She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.” Al Wolters argues on account of such martial language that the most appropriate translation is “Valiant Woman.” Accordingly, we will refer to the woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 as the “Valiant Woman,” which captures both the strength and the virtue carried by the Hebrew chayil.

The concluding passage in the book of Proverbs characterizes this woman of strength as a wise worker in five sets of practices in her workplace. The high importance of this section is signaled in two ways. First, it is in the form of an acrostic poem, meaning that its lines begin with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in order, making it memorable. Second, it is placed as the climax and summary of the entire book. Accordingly, the five sets of practices we observe in the Valiant Woman will serve as a framework for exploring the entire book.

To some people in the ancient near east, and even to some now, portraying a woman as a model of wise entrepreneurship would be surprising. Despite the fact that God gave the gift of work to men and women equally (Genesis 1 and 2), women’s work has often been denigrated and treated with less dignity than men’s. Following the example of the book, we will refer to this wise worker as she, understanding that God’s wisdom is available equally to men and women. She functions in the book as an affirmation of the dignity of every person’s work.

As always in the book of Proverbs, the way of wisdom flows out of the fear of the Lord. After all the Valiant Woman’s abilities and virtues are described and honored, the source of her wisdom is revealed. “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).


Bonus item: We’ve run this before on the other blog, but I wanted to return to a song about a modern day Proverbs 31 woman.

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